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Time is GMT + 8 hours Posted: 14 August 2005 2314 hrs

Breastfeeding can reduce risk of myopia in children by half: doctors
By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia

If you were breastfed as a baby, chances are you're less likely to be short-sighted. Singapore doctors have found that breastfeeding reduces the risk of myopia in children by almost half. The study - a first in the world - has been published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. Associate Professor Saw Seang Mei, Dept of Community, Occupational and Family Medicine, NUS, said: "We also found that the degree of myopia was different. If the child was breastfed previously, the degree of myopia was 50 degrees less severe compared to a child who's not breastfed." In 2004, a team of doctors and scientists conducted an analysis of risk factors for myopia on 797 children aged 10 to 12 years. They found that 69 percent of short-sighted children were not breastfed, higher than the 62 percent of myopic children who were. And with more than two-thirds of 12-year-olds in Singapore being short-sighted, doctors say the protection that breastfeeding has against myopia is significant. Dr Chong Yap Seng, Consultant, Dept of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, NUH, said: "We can't say for sure which substance is responsible. Conveniently we can point to DHA (docosahexaenic acid) which is present naturally in human milk as a substance that's associated with better eye and brain development in children. However I think we can't say that's the agent. There're many, many things in breastmilk still being discovered everyday." Dr Donald Tan, Deputy Director, Singapore National Eye Centre, said: "We think this new finding is very exciting. Already we have ways of reducing myopic progression. For example, we have atropine eye drops which can reduce the progression of myopia. But this is the first time we are able to show that by intervening at a very early stage, we are able to stop myopia even from coming on from the very start." "And the best thing is that this is an environmental type of intervention which has got no risk, unlike eye drops. So we're now we're able to do something in the environment which can affect how your children become myopic or not myopic." Dr Chong and Dr Tan are co-authors of the research paper on "Association between

Breastfeeding and Likelihood of Myopia in Children". So while mothers can't change their genes, they could reduce the risk of myopia in their children by breastfeeding. Currently, only one in five mothers are still breastfeeding when their babies are 6 months old. And doctors say this study would give them another reason to continue breastfeeding for long-term health benefits. The team of scientists says they intend to take the study findings to the Health Promotion Board to get them to include "myopia protection" on the list of benefits from breastfeeding in their public education. Associate Professor Saw said: "This is a small initial but very important study. We plan to launch a larger study that examines at least 2,000 babies, and follow up with them for up to 10 years, to prospectively ask them about breastfeeding habits, including the duration and types of breastfeeding and we'll follow them up to examine for myopia in later life." - CNA /ch

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